And Then the Ceiling Fell In

william

My brother-in-law, as a child, at the little house

Whenever I get stressed out, when I feel like I can’t stand one single more second of the grind — of getting the kids up, getting them dressed, rushing into work, running around all day, doing office drudgery, running home, feeding everyone, cleaning everyone up, until falling into bed myself, crashing out for a few random hours, only to wake up and do it all over again — I think, I will run away.

I will take these kids and run away somewhere where I don’t have to deal with this s***.

When I had Henry, I daydreamed that I would take him and live in my grandmother’s cabin on the Lemonweir River in Wisconsin. I’d always dreamed that as a child, spending many lazy summer days on her river, catching fish, chasing frogs, that when I was grown up I would come here with my baby and spend all day like that. I don’t know why I thought that, but I did. Maybe because it was a special place, a magical place, of endless summer days and I thought having a baby would be like that. That that was what it would feel like to have a baby — like summer, like magic. And it does.

So I dreamed about that a lot when Henry was born and then snatched away into daycare and I missed him so terribly that I thought I would die.

But my grandmother is gone now. And the cabin too, for me anyway.

So now, two years later, new baby. New daydreams.

There is a little house on my father-in-law’s property. My husband lived there with his parents when he was a child and his grandmother lived in the “big house.” His father was an artist and needed someplace to live, cheap.

I’ve only looked at the little house. I’ve never been inside it.

I see a small, broken down front porch, peeling paint. One window. A gravel driveway that circles around in front.

I’ve been thinking about the little house a lot, lately. Maybe because my job is uncertain. And my writing career, obviously, is nowhere near where I want it to be, no matter how hard I try.

And nothing seems to be really working: not my job, not the writing, not anything. And I think, How can I change that? How can I fix things so that it stops feeling like I’m failing all the time? How can I have more time to write and more time with the kids?

So I think about the little house.

We went down to Warsaw on the Fourth of July. We stopped and bought fireworks at a stand. It was so hot, I thought I was going to pass out. Our car had been totaled the day before. One more lousy thing to happen in a string of lousy things. We were driving down to my father-in-law’s house to borrow a car until we got another one.

Chase and I were downstairs in the dining room. It was dark and cool.

“What about the little house? Maybe we could live there,” I offered.

“Do you want to see it?” he asked.

And I said sure.

We found the key. It was a hot day, miserable hot, over 100 degrees, so hot it’s oppressive, pressing down on you, up to your neck. Still, I thought, Let’s see it. Let’s finally take a look inside.

We climbed up the rotting front porch and tried the key. The front door wouldn’t budge.

We walked around the side of the house and let ourselves in.

One decrepit room led to another. The carpet was mildewed and stained. Just a cheap pink carpet tossed over floorboards. Nobody had even ever tacked it down. I walked into one of the rooms and something dark and disgusting lay in piles in the corner.  “Oh,” I said. “What is that?”

I looked up. The ceiling had fallen in. In the kitchen and one of the bedrooms. Rotting, black insulation had fallen in with the ceiling, in piles upon the floor. Two huge gaping holes in the roof in both rooms. I looked up and someone had put a tarp over the roof. But they hadn’t fixed it.

“See,” my father in law said. “It’s pretty.”

He didn’t even see it. He didn’t even see the ceiling. The black insulation, rotting, in the corner.

“When did that happen?” I asked, pointing at the ceiling.

“Oh my God!” he shouted. “Look at that!”

He was surprised. Both of us, crestfallen. There was no way this house would be liveable, not for two small children. Not without sinking God knows how much money into it.

I looked at him and he looked at me. We stumbled out of the house, into the crushing sunshine and the singing bees. We were confused, rattled by what we had seen. I was trying to figure out who had put the tarps on the roof. If someone was working on the roof already or if we needed to hire someone to come fix it. My father in law was mumbling something, about somebody never sending a bill.

“He never sent a bill,” my father in law mumbled.

We lurched back to the main house. The baby clinging to me. All of us, drenched with sweat, sick with it.

And that’s how I feel about writing lately. Every time I think about turning on the computer, trying to work on my latest project, I think about the little house, the dream of it and then the reality: all those nasty surprises, the rotting blackness in the corner, the ceiling falling in. And I can’t move. I can’t even try.

Instead I sleep late. I play with the baby. I play with Henry. We color and paint and swim. I aim my creativity elsewhere. I try to be present in this life, in this house, with its ceiling intact, its level floorboards. I try to soak up every minute with the children, every second that I get when I’m not working to pay for the house and the roof without holes — to be fully present with them and for that to be enough.

But then the grind gets so unbearable that I think, Maybe we can make it work. Maybe the little house can be something.

My husband doesn’t want to live at Warsaw full time. I know that. The unending battle between us. So we try to find some common ground, a way to compromise.

We say, “Maybe it will be our summer house.”

Someday.

And I don’t know if it will be or it won’t. But it’s a good dream, to dream on, for a little while anyway.

And I know that’s how I’ll come back around to writing again too, for better or for worse.

The dream, the endless dream, that I can make this work.

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